The 7th : "Monumental, Ministerial, Magnificent"
--Eiffel Tower, Invalides, Musée d'Orsay, Musée Rodin--
The Eiffel Tower has its proud iron feet in the 7th arrondissement and its magnificence sets the tone for the entire district.
If you're looking for a bit of dirt and diversity, Paris has plenty of that...but not here. If you find Paris too cramped and crawling, you haven't yet strolled the seventh with its tree-lined boulevards and sidewalks that seem always wide enough to accommodate strollers and strolling septuagenarians alike. No other central arrondissement offers as long a walk along the banks of the Seine. No other arrondissement offers so many vast lawns, including Les Invalides, Avenue de Breteuil, and the Champs de Mars. There is also no other arrondissement with so many gardens concealed behind stone walls. These are due to the establishment of numerous ministries and embassies that are housed in the prestigious hôtels particuliers. To get a sense of this, you can visit the Musée Rodin, then imagine there being about seven other such edifices within a 500-meter radius, also with sumptuous gardens, but occupied by auspicious bureaucrats rather than sublimely sensual sculptures. You can visit these hotels particuliers if you happen to be in Paris during the annual heritage days in September (journées du Patrimoine). Some photos of these hidden gems appear in the photo album.
Who wants to live in the stately seventh? Stately persons, of course! Three categories come to mind. First, there are those who have and always will want to live the 7th, most notably those who gravitate to power and prestige. The French prime minister lives here (Hôtel de Matignon) as does also the world's wealthiest individual (depending on stock variations), LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault.
A second category would be those who gravitate around others who gravitate to power and prestige.
A third category would be Americans (but not only) who appreciate, in addition to the stateliness, the sense of space and safety they feel in the 7th. Yes, there's the "American Church of Paris" to gather them together...but also the Russian Orthodox Church with its conspicuous, shining domes, just a block away! There's the "American University of Paris" and a few bilingual schools. Well-dressed children run free on the vast grassy expanse of the Avenue de Breteuil.
Having unduly simplified the 7th, let's take a closer look. In reality, the seventh can be roughly divided in two: east and west of the Boulevard des Invalides. What I have so far described corresponds to the west side. The east side feels more like a transition between the 7th and the 6th, with its smaller streets and chic boutiques (including the Bon Marché).
Somewhere on the way, starting from Orsay, you should make a point to stumble upon the Basilique Saint-Cotilde and the Place du Palais Bourbon, before your visit to the Musée Rodin (not to be missed under any circumstances).
Once you have crossed the Boulevard des Invalides into the more stately section of the seventh, you'll find yourself searching for some of the lost charms of the sixth. The most popular boutique streets are rue Clerc and rue Saint-Dominique, where you will find all imaginable culinary delights.
If you manage to make it all the way over to the western edge, you may find yourself crossing over in the 15th, where stateliness abruptly switches to ordinary, cosmopolitan Paris with its markets, diverse shops, and a mixed bag of architecture. That is one reason why, when "certain" people tell you that the 7th is "boring", it's worth keeping in mind that Paris really is a dense city; one shouldn't make too much of a fuss about having to walk three blocks to experience something quite different.
The Seventh has not had its last word, either. With the planned renovation of the Champs de Mars, the area around the Eiffel Tower is set to become far more pleasant for living.
And for those lucky enough to have their window looking out upon the dame de fer, the nightly glitter and glow will remain.